For the Love of Patisserie

So in my previous post I mentioned how we made a special trip out to one-hatted restaurant Flying Fish – well that wasn’t the only place we went out of our way to go visit.

Now I’ve always been one with a sweet tooth, for as long as I can remember.  In the last few years, however, I’ve become really incorrigible – totally obsessed with cupcakes (especially cupcakes!), pastries, desserts…just anything sweet that I can get my little mits on!  I used to be able to go without but now dessert is an absolute MUST every time I go out to dinner.

On a slight tangent, I bought ramekins the other day which made me happy; now all I need is a blowtorch and then it’s CREME BRULEE time!

Anyway, if you’re a foodie and have watched Masterchef Australia, or have some knowledge of the Australian food scene, you will be familiar with a certain patissier called Adriano Zumbo.  He is most known for his amazing croquembouche, a French pastry which consists of hundreds of profiteroles (cream puffs) dipped with caramelized sugar and presented in the shape of a high reverse cone.  It is said to be one of the hardest pastries to make and put together – and also (potentially) the most painful;  if you’re not careful when coating the profiteroles, the caramel could burn your fingers badly!

But I digress.  So I was fully planning on going to Adriano Zumbo’s patisserie when I got to Sydney – little did I know how far away it was!!   See, I had assumed being as famous as he was, that his store would surely be in the CBD, where there would be the most traffic.  That assumption was wrong.  He has 3 outlets and all of them are quite a ways away.  We decided to go to his flagship store in Balmain, which is a suburb in the inner-west of Sydney.  So on the bus we went.

What an interesting trip to Balmain it was.  Apart from Zumbo’s little “blink and you’ll miss it treasure trove” there is nothing else in Balmain.  I kid you not.  The township is made up of pretty much just the one main street of shops.  We did go off for a bit of a wander and while we did stumble across a couple of quaint little pop-up shops, apart from that there really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.  Their only claim to fame is Adriano Zumbo’s patisserie.  In fact, when we were getting our bus tickets, I should have already expected this because without us having to say anything, the cashier already knew we were going to visit Mr. Zumbo.  Well duh, if it’s the only “tourist-y” thing to see there…

When we got to the patisserie, I was like a kid in a candy store.  First off let me tell you that the store is TINY.  There is just a long counter with all the cakes on display on the right and a one-lane space for you to walk along it on the left.  And of course, because this wasn’t just any regular cake shop, the store was chock-a-block; there was a constant queue of people, even to the point of spilling out the entrance.

I have to say the whole “system” was a bit silly, in my opinion.  The space was way too small for the amount of people that were coming through the door.  Moreover because Zumbo’s creations are not just your run-of-the-mill everyday slices of cake but beautiful molecular gastronomical works of art, people would take awhile to actually decide what they wanted.  Myself included – I actually walked up and down the counter a few times gawking at all the amazing things that were on display before I made my decision.  This caused a bit of a crowd control issue, but I have to say, the pastry chefs behind the counter worked brilliantly – they knew who to serve first, who was next in line.  I expect they’ve gotten used to the space constraints and have a bit of a mental system going on.

The other thing I didn’t understand was why not have a bigger space that could accommodate a couple of tables for people to sit and enjoy Zumbo’s creations right there?  I would have liked to sample a selection of his cakes but because it was takeaway only, sadly I could only admire the lot but purchase just one (I was flying back to Auckland the next day).  See if we could have eaten there, I would have most likely gotten two cakes to enjoy there, and then another one to take home.

I was also kind of disappointed that he didn’t have little “mini croquembouches” for sale at the store – I really want to try one because word has it, it is every sweet tooth’s dream!  Maybe I should pitch this idea to the man himself.  I mean it is, after all, his claim to fame, thanks to Masterchef.

Anyway post-visit, all I have to say is this: Adriano Zumbo is the king of patisserie.  I just couldn’t believe the beautiful and amazing cakes that were before my eyes.  He is so creative and what he puts together is so much more than just tasty sweet treats that look good;  it really is “art on a plate”.  I especially love how he incorporates molecular gastronomy into his creations – “fried egg” chocolates that look exactly like fried eggs, pastries made in the shape of a whole chicken but filled with chocolates, “chop suey” cakes that look like slabs of sushi and while they do have savoury elements to it, still primarily tastes like a sweet dessert – so clever, that whole play on making things look differently from how it’s going to taste…absolutely brilliant.

I managed to sneakily take some photos – be prepared to have your visual-socks knocked off!!

It was a tough decision but in the end I decided on getting “Don The Pandan Man” – a pandan mousse with pandan financier, kaffir lime and coconut crunch, coconut kaffir lime dacquoise, pandan toasted brulee and rice pudding.  It’s the last picture in the cluster of photos – it’s the green cake next to Chop Suey.

I have had a lot of cake in my time and let me tell you, this was THE MOST DELICIOUS CAKE I have EVER eaten.  I could have eaten a whole entire cake of it.  I would have felt completely sick after, but I would not have regretted it one bit!!  The pandan flavor was infused perfectly, that mousse and dacquoise was so light and just melted in your mouth. The kaffir lime and coconut crunch base gave the cake a nice crunchy texture and the rice pudding at the top added a nice savory kick to it.  The flavors just all worked together beautifully and harmoniously.

I had planned on getting some of his famous macarons to take home, but unfortunately by the time I got to the front of the queue, they had all sold out.  I was so excited to see what his satay macarons tasted like!

I hope Adriano Zumbo crosses the ditch one day and opens a patisserie here in Auckland because I’m just dying to try everything else!  Until that time comes – keeping my fingers crossed! – for now all I can do is drool at my photos and also his Patisserie Menu.  (which for some reason has a more boring-looking version of Don The Pandan Man.)

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